Maoist Prashanta Bose: The Last of the First-Generation Naxals

Better known as Kishan Da and ‘number 2’ in the CPI (Maoist) hierarchy, Bose had been eluding the police for 43 years.

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Kolkata: Despite almost every mainstream Indian media house covering it, the Jharkhand police have, strangely, not acknowledged the arrest of septuagenarian Maoist leader Prashanta Bose, alias Kishan Da, which should arguably be seen as one of their biggest achievements in years.

One of India’s most-wanted Maoist leaders, Bose was reportedly arrested in Jharkhand on the morning of Friday, November 12 after eluding the police and special forces for 43 years. Bose was arrested along with his wife, Sheela Marandi, alias Shobha Di, who is the first woman to be a member of the CPI(Maoist) central committee. She has been out of jail on bail since February, 2016.

Originally from the Bijoygarh area of South Kolkata’s Jadavpur neighbourhood, Bose is known to have been based in the Saranda forest over the past several years. He is also known by the aliases of Nirbhay Mukherjee, Kajol and Mahesh. He is about 75 years old and Marandi, a native of Jharkhand, is in her mid-60s.

Bose was last arrested in 1974 and came out of jail in 1978. He has remained out of reach of the police forces of West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha and Chhattisgarh ever since.

On Friday, almost all major media houses, including the Times of India, the Hindustan Times, the Indian Express and the Hindu, reported the arrest quoting anonymous police officials. A video clip of the purported arrest which has been doing the rounds since Friday afternoon shows an elderly man and a woman who look similar to what Bose and Marandi looked like in previous photos.

“They were arrested from a car along with three other youths while returning from Parasnath. They were caught before crossing the toll plaza at Gidhibera within the Kandra police station’s limits in the Saraikela-Kharsawan district,” a senior police officer in Jharkhand told The Wire, requesting anonymity. The couple is being interrogated in the state capital of Ranchi, the officer said.

“The police might be delaying formal acknowledgement so that they get a little more time before producing them before a court,” said a senior official of West Bengal police, who has worked in anti-Maoist operations, on the condition of anonymity. “The forces might take a little time in identifying Bose since the photos that the police had are several years old and in those photos he was bespectacled and sported a white beard; the man arrested neither wore spectacles nor had a beard. However, it should not take time to identify Marandi since she was in jail only five years ago,” the officer explained.

In a statement issued on Friday night, Sujato Bhadra, vice-president of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners demanded the couple be immediately given the status of political prisoners.

Bose was also one of the accused named in the Pune police’s chargesheet in the Elgar Parishad case. The police had claimed that a document they had allegedly obtained from fellow accused Rona Wilson had mentioned Bose by name in connection with a “conspiracy to kill the Prime Minister”. He is one of the five accused mentioned in the chargesheet still absconding custody, along with Maoist leaders Dipak, alias Milind Teltumbade; Prakash, alias Rituparn Goswami; comrade Deepu and comrade Manglu.

The National Investigative Agency (NIA) will likely be seeking his custody in that case soon.

Also read: Elgar Parishad Case: CPI (Maoist) Leader Arrested in Jharkhand

A top Naxal 

Bose is among the last of the first-generation Naxalite cadres who joined the movement when it broke out in 1967 and continued to play a leading role in the Naxalite movement in its new avatar. He has been a member of the politburo, central committee and central military commission of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), better known as the CPI(Maoist), since its formation in 2004.

Bose also served as the secretary of the clandestine outfit’s Eastern Regional Bureau (ERB) which looked after the party’s work in Jharkhand, West Bengal, Bihar, parts of Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh and the Northeastern states.

Marandi, known as the founder of the Nari Mukti Sangh, a women’s organisation purportedly linked to the CPI(Maoist), was arrested in 2006 from Odisha and released on bail in February, 2016 after being lodged in various jails in Odisha and Jharkhand. Subsequently, she once again flew under the police’s radar.

Even though the CPI (Maoist), since 2013, decided to relieve ageing leaders of their crucial responsibilities, – as a result of which the party’s general secretary Mupalla Laxmana Rao, alias Ganapathy, stepped down in 2018 – Bose had not been relieved of his charges since the party could not find a suitable replacement to lead the movement in Eastern India.

Due to his failing health, Kishan Da had not been at the forefront of the party’s armed operations for many years now but he is considered among the party’s top ideologues and theoriticians. Moreover, among the party’s top leadership, his experience is the most vast. Police officers, however, believe that he was still very much part of the planning of armed actions against security forces.

Also read: Illegal Detention, Forced Marriage: What Happens After Alleged Naxals ‘Surrender’ in Bastar?

The last of the first generation

At the time of the CPI(Maoist)’s formation, there were several members in the central committee who had joined the Naxalite movement during its first wave in the late 1960s: Bose, Sushil Roy, Anukul Chandra Naskar and Purnendu Sekhar Mukherjee from the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCC) background and Nayaran Sanyal and Amitabha Bagchi from the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) Party Unity background. All of them were originally from Kolkata but later had their bases outside West Bengal. Of them, Roy, Sanyal and Mukherjee have died; Bagchi is in jail and Naskar, in his late 70s, has become inactive after being released from jail a few years ago.

Those in the central committee from the CPI(ML)(People’s War) background had mostly joined the movement in the 1970s, after the first wave faltered in 1972.

According to two veteran Maoist leaders that this author had previously interviewed, Bose was a young trade union activist in Kolkata in 1967 when the first wave of the Naxalite movement – calling for an armed overthrow of the Indian state by means of a ‘protracted people’s war’ based on an agrarian revolution – broke out in Bengal and spread to other parts of the country.

Bose was working closely with expelled CPI(Marxist) leader Kanai (also spelt Kanhai) Chatterjee at the time. Chatterjee was one of the leaders of the Dakshin Desh magazine group which had also sent its representatives to the umbrella outfit, the All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCCR), which was formed in 1968 to guide the movement.

In Kolkata, under Chatterjee’s guidance, Bose was also involved in the famous trade union movement at the Usha factory in Southern Kolkata in 1967-68.

Later, in 1969, two separate organisations were born out of the AICCCR: the Charu Majumdar-led CPI(Marxist-Leninist) in April and the MCC in October. Bose was one of the founding members of the Kanai Chatterjee-Amulya Sen-led MCC.

From 1967-70, Bose was involved in spreading the MCC’s organisation in the South 24-Parganas district, the Howrah-Hooghly-Midnapore belt and the Bardhaman-Birbhum area. He had narrowly escaped raids by the police and paramilitary forces several times, his former comrades in the MCC said.

In 1970, focusing on Bihar as a strategic zone, the MCC sent Bose to South Bihar to build the party’s organisation in the Giridih–Hazaribagh–Ranchi–Bokaro–Santhal Parganas–Dhanbad belt. He has been based in that area since then, even though he used to frequent Bengal to meet top MCC leaders like Chatterjee and Sen.

Bose was arrested in 1974. It was during his five-year stay behind bars that one of his jaws was allegedly broken in torture. His broken right jaw remained one of his most prominent physical identifiers.

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After moving out of jail in 1978, he re-joined the party and went on to become one of its most prominent leaders, along with Sushil Roy, especially after the death of Kanai Chatterjee in 1982. During this period, he also played an instrumental role in spreading the party organisation using public sentiment for the Jharkhand movement (often also called the ‘Lalkhand movement’).

Bose took charge as the general secretary of the MCC in 1996 after Sushil Roy stepped down due to his failing health. He was leading the organisation in 2002 when several batches of Maoists from Nepal given training in guerrilla warfare by the MCC in the forests of Bihar. Bose had also played a significant role in forging alliances with the militant groups operating in India’s Northeastern states.

Representative image of CPI (Maoist) Cadres. Photo: PTI.

In 2003, the MCC merged with a small organisation, the Revolutionary Communist Party of India (Maoist) and was rechristened as the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI).

Bose was still serving as the general secretary of the MCCI when the organisation merged with the CPI(ML)(PW) in 2004 to form the CPI(Maoist).

In 2011-12, when the CPI(Maoist) was struggling with a series of setbacks, including the arrest of senior leaders and seizure of arms and ammunition, the party entrusted Bose with the task of leading the ideological-political battle within the party to “avert deviations.”

In this context, in a secret letter addressed to the party’s leaders and members at all levels, Bose had written that the party did not rule out ‘ideological–political deviations’ arising among a section of imprisoned leaders and cadres in the time of a setback. He had suggested that the party needed to ‘deal with them patiently in a manner that is ideologically and politically convincing’.

His letter had also stressed on the need to learn from past experiences in turning ‘jails into political schools and centres of class struggle’ to influence prisoners with the party’s ideology and help rebuild the movement, just as it had happened between 1969 and 1977.

Of course, he was among the last leaders in the party’s hierarchy who had first-hand experience of rebuilding the party’s organisation from setbacks; not once but several times over the past five decades.

The CPI(Maoist) is presently being led by Nambala Keshav Rao, alias Vasavraj, who comes from a background in the CPI(ML)(PW).